Why golf needs a new Tiger Woods
It must be said the 2016 season has not panned out quite like some leading media figures had suggested.
At the start of the year a great deal was written about how a Big Three comprising Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy would dominate proceedings but, while none of them has performed badly, neither could it be said that they have succeeded in separating themselves from their peers.
And nor, for that matter, has anyone else, either. The simple fact is that, contrary to media speculation, there have been no dominant players on either the men’s or ladies’ tours this year.
Several have claimed multiple victories but when it comes down to it, a group of nine different players comprising Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Jimmy Walker, Lydia Ko, Brooke Henderson, Brittany Lang, Ariya Jutanugarn and In Gee Chun have won this year’s nine Major championships.
Add WGC-Cadillac champion Adam Scott, WGC-Dell Match Play champion Day, BMW PGA champion Chris Wood, Tour Championship winner McIlroy and Olympic gold medallists Justin Rose and Inbee Park to that list and what you are left with is the irrefutable conclusion that this year’s top honours have been spread more widely than almost ever before.
Heading into the new season, and based on recent form alone, Johnson and Ko are probably the closest we have to two dominant players right now.
However, neither player has done anything to suggest they are demonstratively better than several of their nearest rivals.
Currently there is more strength in depth in the professional game than at any time in the past and, while that is a welcome development on one level, it is also a hindrance on another in that it makes it much more difficult for true global superstars to emerge.
I grew up in the era when the game was dominated by Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player but I did not need to be there at the time to understand how their rivalry helped to popularise the game within sections of the community which hitherto had paid very little notice to it.
What the Big Three did was to give the public the star figures they craved and more recently that was replicated to a certain extent by the emergence of Europe’s Big Five – Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam and Sandy Lyle – and then in glorious fashion by the exploits of Tiger Woods.
It was no coincidence that golf’s popularity peaked when Woods was in his prime and nor is it any real surprise either that eight years after his 14th and last Major victory he remains the one player who commands both front and back-page headlines.
There have been all sort of suggestions made as to why golf is no longer as popular as it once was. Lack of time, expense and its failure to move with the times are all valid reasons.
I cannot help but think you also need to add the lack of a genuine superstar to that list. Golf is crying out for a new Palmer, Nicklaus, Ballesteros or Woods but the problem is the game’s development over the last 20 to 30 years has mitigated against this happening.
It is not just the increased depth of the talent pool which makes it more difficult than ever before for a truly dominant player, or a truly dominant group of players, to emerge.
Increasingly forgiving equipment and standardised playing surfaces have also played a large part in levelling the playing field and this process has been aided further by the fact that fitness levels have improved.
Add to that intensive modern coaching and increased use of sports psychologists and what you get is a recipe for excellence, but not necessarily a platform for truly exceptional players to emerge, and that is a worry at a time when golf is battling to strengthen its precarious foothold in an increasingly competitive leisure market.